Bill summaries are authored by CRS.

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Conference report filed in House (03/14/1996)

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

Title I: Product Liability Reform

Title II: Biomaterials Access Assurance

Title III: Limitations on Applicability; Effective Date

Common Sense Product Liability Legal Reform Act of 1996 - Title I: Product Liability Reform - Applies this Act to any product liability action in any State or Federal court on any theory for harm caused by a product, except for actions for commercial loss.

(Sec. 103) Imposes seller liability if the seller failed to exercise reasonable care, made an express warranty, or engaged in intentional wrongdoing. Declares that a failure to inspect is not a failure of reasonable care if there was no reasonable opportunity to inspect or if the inspection would not have revealed the aspect that caused the harm. Makes a seller liable as a manufacturer if the manufacturer is not subject to service or if the claimant would be unable to enforce a judgment. Makes certain persons engaged in the business of renting or leasing a product liable as a seller, but prohibits liability for the tortious act of another solely by reason of ownership.

(Sec. 104) Makes it a complete defense if the claimant was under the influence of alcohol or a drug and was more than 50 percent responsible.

(Sec. 105) Reduces damages by the percentage of harm attributable to misuse or alteration, except for actions involving an employer or coemployee if the employer or coemployee is, under State law, immune from claimant's action.

(Sec. 106) Limits the time within which a product liability action must be started, with a separate limit for durable goods other than motor vehicles, vessels, aircraft, or trains used primarily to transport passengers for hire.

(Sec. 107) Allows a claimant or defendant in a product liability action to offer to proceed with voluntary, nonbinding alternative dispute resolution.

(Sec. 108) Allows punitive damages, as permitted by State law, if the claimant shows by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant's conduct, carried out with a conscious, flagrant indifference to the rights or safety of others, was the proximate cause of the harm. Limits the punitive damage amounts that may be awarded to a claimant, allowing a court to override the limits in certain circumstances. Sets a special lower limit for individuals with a net worth under a specified amount or businesses with fewer than a specified number of employees. Requires, at the request of any party, consideration of punitive damages in a separate proceeding. Makes these punitive damages provisions inapplicable, until a specified date, if the harm was death and if State law allows only punitive damages.

(Sec. 110) Permits several and prohibits joint liability for noneconomic loss, allocating liability in direct proportion to the percentage of responsibility.

(Sec. 111) Grants an insurer a right of subrogation whether or not the insurer is a party. Prohibits an employee from making settlements or accepting payments without the consent of the employer.

Requires, if the manufacturer or seller alleges the harm was the fault of the claimant's employer or coemployee, that the issue be submitted to the trier of fact. Reduces damages if it is found by clear and convincing evidence that the harm was so caused, but requires the manufacturer or seller to reimburse the insurer for attorney's fees and costs if it is not so found.

Title II: Biomaterials Access Assurance - Biomaterials Access Assurance Act of 1996 - Applies this title, subject to exception, to any civil action in Federal or State court against a manufacturer, seller, or biomaterials supplier, on any legal theory, for harm allegedly caused by an implant.

(Sec. 205) Declares that a biomaterials supplier shall not be liable for harm caused by an implant unless the supplier: (1) is a manufacturer; (2) is a seller; and (3) furnishes materials or parts that fail to meet contractual requirements or specifications.

Allows considering a supplier a manufacturer if the supplier: (1) registered under specified provisions of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and included the implant on a list of devices filed under those provisions; (2) is the subject of a declaration by the Secretary of Health and Human Services that the supplier was required to so register or include but failed to do so; or (3) is related by common ownership or control to a person meeting the requirements of (1) or (2), if the court finds it necessary to impose liability on the supplier as a manufacturer because the manufacturer lacks sufficient financial resources to satisfy a likely judgment if the claimant wins.

Allows considering a supplier a seller if the supplier held title to the implant after manufacture and after entrance of the implant in the stream of commerce and subsequently resold the implant or if the supplier is related by common ownership or control to a person who held title and subsequently resold, if the court finds it necessary to impose liability on the supplier as a manufacturer because the seller lacks sufficient financial resources to satisfy a likely judgment if the claimant wins.

Allows a supplier, to the extent required and permitted by other law, to be liable if the claimant shows, by a preponderance of the evidence, violation of contractual requirements or specifications.

(Sec. 206) Sets forth procedures relating to motions by a supplier to dismiss actions that are subject to this title.

Title III: Limitations on Applicability; Effective Date - Makes any circuit court of appeals decision interpreting this Act a precedent for any Federal or State court within that court's geographic jurisdiction. Declares that U.S. district courts shall not have jurisdiction under this Act based on provisions of the U.S. Code relating to Federal questions, commerce and antitrust, and amounts in controversy. Sets forth the effective dates of this Act.